Pei Wei Asian Diner
1028 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-907-2030
Faster and less crowded than P.F. Chang's. Almost the same food, totally different atmosphere.
Cuisine: Asian, Cafe
Hours: Su-Thu, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
May 7, 2004
Pei Wei is much like the P.F. Chang way -- only faster, cozier
By Nancy Hobbs
If you are among the multitudes that have waited for a table at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, or perhaps just given up upon seeing the waiting crowd, now there is a simpler, faster option. Pei Wei Asian Diner -- a smaller, more casual version of its parent company -- has come to Sugar House.
It hasn't taken long for the buzz that preceded its opening to turn into a steady hum, but prompt food delivery aids in constant turnover of the "dine-in" tables, and a separate entrance and register for "take away" means little waiting if you call ahead.
When dining in, place your order and pay at the register, then take a seat (the small patio is popular) and the meal is delivered to your table, in short order and piping hot. The food is prepared in the open kitchen to the back of the restaurant, where a full line of chefs can be seen working behind the counter, with a visually attractive array of woks, strainers and utensils hanging within their reach.
The dining area itself is striking, from the bright red painted floors and glossy black chairs and shutters, to mustard-colored walls and curving patterned banquettes. The cadre of men in black, circulating through the dining area to offer refills, clear empty dishes and bring boxes for leftovers, are a well-suited addition. (Although it's not complete sit-down service, it's close, and a couple of bucks left on the table is generally in order.)
The Pei Wei (pronounced pay-way) menu is varied enough to give plenty of options, but certainly pared down from P.F. Chang's fare. A welcome duplication, however, is the ever-popular lettuce wraps, with almost a whole head of cold and crisp iceberg leaves paired with a generous plate of spicy minced chicken and shiitake mushrooms as the filling.
That is one of several "first tastes" offered. Others include edamame, crispy spring rolls and crab and cream cheese wontons, attractively presented as star-shaped packages sitting on a thin layer of sweet and slightly hot chili sauce.
The salads also are a sight to behold, with the Asian chopped chicken salad a towering feast of chopped greens, shredded chicken and crispy wonton strips, all dressed in a light but flavorful ginger vinaigrette. Delicious soft-skinned Vietnamese rolls -- what I've generally known as spring rolls -- are listed under salads, too, made with rice paper wrapped around lettuce, chicken, luscious mint and lime vinaigrette.
Choose from more than a half-dozen rice and noodle bowls, including a pad thai made with tofu, peanuts and rice noodles, and fried rice made with a mix of white rice and thicker-grained, chewier brown rice, plus, of course, egg, scallion and other vegetables.
The "signature dishes" seem to be the choice of most diners. First select the "style," or preparation of the meal, then decide whether you want it made with chicken, beef, shrimp, scallops or vegetables and tofu, with prices varying depending on that choice. The vegetable/tofu preparation, for example, is $6.75, while choosing scallops or shrimp bumps the price to $9. The meals also come with either white or brown rice.
The Pei Wei Spicy, noted as their version of General Chu, was indeed spicy, but not overly so. Ordered with beef, the meat had a delicious crispy exterior, but was tender inside, and mixed with vegetables, peanuts and a rich, tangy sauce.
For something less spicy, the sweet and sour, made with crispy chicken or shrimp (we chose the latter) is worth trying, with big chunks of onion, green pepper and fresh pineapple stir-fried and mixed with tender crusted shrimp and a light, sweet sauce. Another option is the terrific honey-seared chicken or shrimp.
For children, Pei Wei offers a choice of three preparations of chicken -- teriyaki, honey or lo mein -- served with rice or noodles and a drink for less than $4.
For quick and casual, Pei Wei is hard to beat, whether dining out or looking for a new takeout option. The food is fresh and flavorful, with lots of menu options and reasonable prices.